On Tuesday, March 15, hundreds of filmmakers, actors, and film enthusiasts gathered for the annual National Board of Review Gala.
Enjoyed by A-list guests at the SAG Awards, this classic cocktail calls for the legendary Campari liqueur for a herby, bitter sip.
Newcomer Jabari Banks stars as “Will,” in the upcoming series BEL-AIR. I along with several other reporters got to sit down with Jabari in a round table talk setting and ask him questions about his new role. First impressions showed me how grounded Jabari is despite the iconic role he has taken on. The people surrounding him provide him with great support that shows through the way he carries himself. It’s refreshing to see a young adult actor in Hollywood be so relatable and down to earth.
The much-anticipated drama series drops on Super Bowl Sunday, February 13, only on Peacock.
Question: Obviously the Will of the 1990s is dramatically different than the Will of 2022. So how did you approach this difference while remaining true to character?
Jabari: Well, you know, like this whole show is in the lens of 2021/ 2022. So, you know there’s like no way that I can approach it in the 1990s, you know in the mindset. So you know, I just really focused on being me and staying true to what I know, and how I grew up and I guess, you know, that’s the only way that we can tell the truth.You know what I mean, in this circumstance. So you know, I just really leaned on my instincts, cause I have a lot of similarities in my life, to Will’s life, so I leaned on that and I trusted in that.
Question: What would you say some of those similarities are?
Jabari: You know we grew up in a similar place. I lived with my uncle actually in Philly for a while. Family situations were similar, and you know people tell me that my poise is kind of like him. That I kind of have a similar look to him, so in that way I’ve been connected to him, and he’s been a huge you know influence on me in my life, and how I grew up, and the way that I approach my work, and just how I approach my life in general, how I look at things. He’s been a huge influence on me in that way.
Question: So kind of in that vein, Did you grow up with the show, watching the show? And is there anything with Will himself that, is there anything from the show that you kind of took into this performance, to build out the Will-ness of the character?
Jabari: Oh yeah! I mean, I grew up on this show. My family had the six season box set so I had that on repeat. Actually, the Fresh Prince was like one of the first shows that I recognized what entertainment was. It was like on my mom’s box tv or whatever. We was just watching it and I was like “oh I’m enjoying this,” you know what I mean? I remember like one of my first memories was the Fresh Prince and so it’s really shaped me in that way. And so I guess you know, I just take with that like charisma, you know what I mean? And you know being personable, and I really feel like that’s just me though, you know what I mean? I feel like that’s just me. And so it’s great to have this opportunity to just be me in front of the camera, you know what I mean? I think that’s why they choose me. Cause you know in our mind they were like “this is Will Smith. His name is Will Smith, but this isn’t the Will Smith superstar that we know. This is somebody you know that is totally different but gives that same feel,” so I just leaned on that.
Question: So they say that you’re a newcomer. I’m sure that you’ve had some experience in the industry, but I’m wondering like how much have you grown through this experience so far?
Jabari: Oh I’ve grown immensely, immensely. I didn’t have any industry…
Question: No industry experience before this?
Jabari: No, no, no, not before this.
Question: But you know they say that sometimes and then it’s like “well I did a few short films.”
Jabari: Oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah! Well I mean I did a short film with my friend in college. It was like 5 minutes but I mean, that built me a way too. I don’t ever look at anything as this is small and this is big, you know what I mean? This is just all an experience, and I take it in that way but through this I’ve learned so much, you know what I mean?
Question: What’s the biggest lesson so far?
Jabari: The biggest lesson? That’s a really good question. I guess I would say, I don’t know if I’m gonna quote this right but, “the people that you pass on the way up, will be there on your way down too.” So you know, you always gotta treat everybody with respect, you know what I mean? And with dignity, and just be a good person, you know what I mean? Don’t let you ego get too big. You know what I mean? Just be human. There’s so many times in this life, you know what I mean, that God kind of takes you outside of your work so I just really try to stay grounded in that.
Question: Absolutely, I love that. And one more question for you, in your opinion you know, obviously this is like a revival series. It’s a different spin on the nostalgia that we loved from the sitcom. But why is it still an important story to tell?
Jabari: What? I mean this,This is just a story, you know about a guy being thrown into a world that he doesn’t know. He’s a fish out of water story, and some people can recognize that and relate to that. But outside of that, you know what I mean… Outside of that it’s just like you know, we really get to see excellence on screen in a new form, in a new fashion and it’s fresh, you know what I mean and I think people are gonna like that a lot, and you know, I think we’ve been with a lot of new shows that’s coming out, we’ve been of like kinda going back to different time periods but to see this, you know, in our modern day, they’re gonna instantly recognize it when they see it on screen, so that’s gonna be huge.
Question: I mean you said it was set in 2021 though, I’m just curious, honestly, it just came up, but no one’s wearing masks?
Jabari: Oh yeah you know what, I was just gonna say that I love that, I love that, you know..Right our world is like covid free? You know what I mean, cause it’s like, you know, it’s cool to sometimes to throw that in there, cause like “oh this is what’s happening in our own world,” but sometimes people want to escape from that.
Question: Keeping it like 2021 and keeping it of course modern, did you feel any pressure to bring some of those nostalgic pieces to it, I mean cause there’s like lines that we hear in the theme song that are just, you know, randomly thrown out. Do you feel any pressure with that?
Jabari: Oh, I mean, I didn’t feel the pressure but I mean our team, I mean our writers and the creators, they’ve been great with like throwing in little nuggets from the original series, so like those really adamant big fans are gonna see, they’re gonna just see like little easter eggs, and little callbacks to the original series, so that’s gonna be exciting for them.
Question: There’s a great video of you when you found out that you were cast for this. Will Smith surprising you. What are your conversations like with Will Smith about this role? What’s that dynamic like with you?
Jabari: It’s been life changing obviously, but it’s been an incredible opportunity to be able to chat with Will, and to just pick his brain, you know what I mean? He told me something that wasn’t in the video, and I’ll tell you. He said “I’m gonna be to you what Quincy Jones was to me.” I was like “oh my God!” I was like, to be able to carry that legacy, you know what I mean, and just you know, that’s huge, that’s huge. So I’m taken with that and I’m just staying focused and locked in, and it’s good, you know what I mean, so yeah.
Question: To that point though, how has he helped you throughout the process of, you know, creating a character, and, you know, filming the show?
Jabari: You know, I think. You know, I think they trust us, you know what I mean? I really believe that the original cast trusts us. And so they see what we’re doing, and you know, they’re leaving us to our own vices, you know what I mean? And so with that, you know, he’s given me little bits and pieces, but you know I’m just running with it, right? And he trusts, you know, where I’m from, and that I understand, you know, what’s going on, and Morgan does the same thing too, so that’s that.
Question: With filming so far, do you, you know, I know for the original cast, there was like a big family connection that they all kind of have, you know? Are you kinda feeling that so far with filming of the first season?
Jabari: Oh my God, yes! I mean we take this outside of set, you know what I mean, Saturdays and Sundays. Right, it’s like we’ll go out, and you know, we have so many other endeavors that we do outside of work, and that’s just gonna shine through on screen throughout the episodes, you know what I mean? And I think you all saw the pilot right? We’ve grown so much as a family since then and I really feel that connection with these people. These are people that I deeply care about, you know what I mean, and so this is just a great opportunity to be able to connect with artists that care about their work as much as I do, and care about what we’re doing as much as I do, cause we’re standing on something great. Like you know the show doesn’t miss, and it’s so wide, and we’re just running with it you know. So we’re taking this left, and to be able to do that together, it’s like we instantly connected. Cause like we’re like, “ok, we know what we’re doing,” so we’re just gonna figure it out together.
Question: The language in the pilot is great because you’re really from Philly so like a lot of the John’s… is that written in there or are you like “we gotta say this?”
Jabari: So, the writers, they throw some in there, but I would say like, you know, sometimes, cause they’re not from Philly, so I definitely take liberties.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about how you felt in your very first scene when you first arrived?
Jabari: Oh my God! Very first scene when I first arrived. Oh ok, ok dang, what was that scene? I think the first scene that we did was when I was riding in the Apollo with Jazz, and that was wow, we were like riding through Muholland or the mountains up there, and that was amazing, and we had a scene where we were looking out into the city, and that was real because that was my first time ever seeing that, so like the similarities between you know me, and the character are so raw, you know what I mean? So all I had to do was just really lean on like, “wow I’m really here, you know what I mean? This is where I’ve always wanted to be.” Unfortunately, I didn’t have a way to, you know, get out here before, but this is a great space to be in now, so that’s how I felt in that first scene.
Question: Speaking of Jazz, so in the original, I don’t know that they explain how Will and Jazz met, and I don’t know that we have explanations in the pilot of how they know each other. He just picks you up in the airport. Do we find out how they know each other?
Jabari: He’s Will’s Uber driver. But you’re right, I think we’ll learn a little bit more about their connection in the future, but that initial connection was that Will missed the car that his aunt sent for him at the airport, so he calls an Uber. And then Jazz gets into the car. And then it goes from there.
Question: How is ya’ll relationship? (Jabari and Jordan)
Jabari: Oh my God, Jordan’s my guy man. He’s hilarious right. He always keeps me laughing. But Jazz’s character, he’s sort of that mystical character, you know what I mean? He just sort of arrives and you know dips whenever. He comes in and out, but he always gives these pieces of information that Will needs to keep going, so I love that.
Questions: We talk about this being a modern take. What does the show have to say in 2021 that really separates itself from the original Fresh Prince?
Jabari: We get to go deeper with these themes, you know what I mean? In the sitcom format, there were a lot of issues that were kind of swept under the rug, which naturally… And so, you know, being a drama, we get to really dive deep into issues about police brutality, you know, about blackness, you know what I mean… all of these things that you know we get to touch on a little bit in the original series, but now, now we really dive deep into these characters, and into the issues that are going on, and their inner monologues, and that’s just something that I think will resonate.
Question: So with your background being from Philly, and being a drama, is there any part of your background that you’re bringing with you to this character? Are there any points where you’re shooting a scene, and maybe it gets a little bit too real for you? Talk us through being a character from Philly, who’s actually from Philly.
Jabari: Right. I’m just leaning into who I am, you know what I mean, that’s it, that’s it. So sometimes it does get real, you know what I mean, and sometimes I have to step away cause I felt these issues, you know with my father, my family you know, being from where I am, you know? These are real things that I go through too, emotions and all. To be able to pull them out and to be vulnerable on screen. Sometimes it gets to be a lot, but you know, I’m carrying it, and I just hope that that comes across on screen. But it does get real.
Question: Building off that, how would you say you stay grounded during this time. This filming process…Is it overwhelming? Can you speak on that?
Jabari: I have an amazing support system out here and I have a lot of great people around me that keep me grounded and that make sure I’m ok constantly. Constantly checking up on me, and that’s all I can ask for, you know what I mean? That’s been an amazing experience to have those types of people around me. And they’re genuine, you know what I mean? And we spend time with each other outside of set, you know what I mean? It’s not like, “ok cut.” We all check on each other, and we make sure that we’re ok, so that’s been good.
Question: So you were chosen for this role because you’re an actor, and you were trained as an actor. So you were obviously prepared for it. I was wondering what you weren’t prepared for?
Jabari: California gets cold. People say that Cali, you know, is just warm, so that’s like….No, no, no, that is real. There’s so many points as an artist that you have to be going for, you know what I mean? And I didn’t know that you have to constantly be on like “lets work,” you know what I mean? So I’m fortunate enough to have talked with Will, and have talked with Morgan, and they’ve prepared me, because it’s like as the #1 of the show, you know what I mean, it’s difficult, for me sometimes to always be on, and to always be ready, you know what I mean? So, to just lock into that headspace, that took a little bit of adjusting, but that was one thing that I wasn’t ready for.
Question: Have you made any mistakes that have taught you something?
Jabari: Yeah, a lot of mistakes.
Question: Right, right, right. Was there something where you screwed up and you like ran from it?
Jabari: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. So we were in, we were out here, we were filming like we were in Philly, a school in Philly, and so we were filming, and we were going through the hallway and we had gotten all the takes that we need, and Morgan was like, you know “on this take, just throw it out, just throw it out,” you know what I mean? So I was like “oh cool, just do it. I’ll just do some crazy shit or something.” So they said action, and I just started like “ding.” I was all over the place, you know what I mean, and he was like “well we can’t really use that tape now.” So just learning how to play within the boundaries.
Question: Cause you wasn’t in frame?
Jabari: Right, exactly. So learning how to play within boundaries, and that’s been a huge lesson for me. You know, just being able to see the camera as another scene partner, you know what I mean? That’s been a good learning experience.
Question: What would you say is the moment that you’re most proud of? In terms of, you know, the episodes that you’ve filmed so far. What’s one performance that you were like “all right, I did that!”
Jabari: I really, really enjoyed the moment in the locker room scene with Carlton and his friend. I was saying the N-word, all of that. And when I looked at Carlton, I’m like, “man, you’re a sucker.” I like that part cause I feel like that’s how everyone’s feeling at that moment. Cause that’s terrible, but you know what I mean? But, I felt really good about that part.
Question: I know like Fresh Prince, like initially, was like… really started off as funny, but towards the later seasons, it got a little more dramatic too. So with this starting off in a little bit more of a serious place, do you look forward to like the later seasons, like stepping into those heavier scenes?
Jabari: Yeah I’m super excited about that. We’re already starting in a great space. It’s very super grounded, very real, very raw. So to be able to just, you know, expel upon that, expel upon that, its great, so yeah, that’ll be good. And yeah, we have those moments of levity too, I think you’ll see a little more of that too, in the later seasons. We’ll get some comedy in there, so that’ll be cool for sure.
Question: In what ways is Will’s relationship with Uncle Phil new in this iteration, in comparison to the sitcom?
Jabari: You know, Uncle Phil in this one don’t play, he buff. You know what I’m saying? You know what I mean? No, but you know, Uncle Phil, Adrian, he’s been great to work with, but Will’s character with Uncle Phil I feel like is very similar to the old one where Uncle Phil gives him that wisdom, and constantly keeps him on the right track. So we’ve taken that, but you know, I feel like Uncle Phil is more relatable to Will in this one, cause he’s a little bit younger so he understands, and he understands hip hop, and you know, he’s not too detached to what Will’s feeling, you know what I mean? He understands a little bit more. That’s clear, that’s clearer, yeah.
Question: Can you talk to us a little bit about Will and Carlton’s dynamic, cause there seems to be more animosity there in this.
Jabari: Oh yeah, for sure. For sure. When it gets deeper too, I love it. So Will and Carlton’s relationship, you know what I mean it’s, it’s very…you know, Will doesn’t like his toes getting stepped on, and Will is going into Carlton’s world, and so like, they’re oil and water. So they just don’t mix, and so they’re just trying to figure out a way to, you know, live in the same space and work together to just be happy. So that was clear, and that’s gonna be like huge in the first season, I feel like. That’s gonna be fun to explore later on.
Question: I feel like that relationship kind evolves quickly in the first episode. (Will and Lisa) That was something that I had questions about just because it seemed like… I mean obviously the attraction was there as soon as you saw her, it was like “all right, who’s that?”
Jabari: It was electric. It was electric, you know what I mean, and that’s “boogie, woogie, woogie,” like you know, you can’t ignore that. You can’t ignore it, you know what I mean? When it’s real, it’s there, so he was just acting on instincts, and that’s one of Will’s issues, you know what I mean? And so you know, Lisa takes a step back in a later episode, so we’ll see how they maneuver that, in that way.
Question: What would you say you’re most excited for, for the fans to watch next? What would you say is what you want them to take out of this?
Jabari: What do I want them to take out of this? You know just, the family dynamic, and the community, you know what I mean? Seeing black folks on the screen being, you know, just living their lives and thriving in this space, you know what I mean? And being happy together, and of course, there’s yelling, you know what I mean, but it’s a drama, so there’s gotta be some. But you know what I mean, just seeing that and taking that away, and you know, just loving on themselves, and on their family. That’s gonna be huge for everyone. I think that’s been huge for me. And that self love aspect, and having the people around you too, you know what I mean, to remind you of that, you know what I mean? Cause no one’s gonna love you like you love yourself right? So to be able to live in that space, you know what I mean? And to have those people around on set, and on the screen, and in the characters, that’s gonna be huge. And we’re gonna be on the forefront of that, you know what I mean? That’s been huge for me, is mental health, you know what I mean, and Uncle Phil, and Aunt Vinny always taking care of Will’s mental health, and Adrian and Casey taking care of mine, and hopefully I can pour back into them, like they pour into me.
Question: Is there a moment like on set or off, or like on the camera, or after they yell cut, that you felt like the most empowered as a new actor, I guess as a relatively new actor coming into this?
Jabari: Yeah, there was the moment where Will tries to, you know, sneak out, and then Uncle Phil brings him back in, and then we have that talk in the foyer. That was a huge scene, and Adrian was an amazing scene partner, and I learned a lot from him just then, and just to keep my eyes up, and to be vulnerable in-front of all those people. And after I finished I was just bawling, you know what I mean, cause, it was just so visceral for me. It was so real and after that I felt really good. Going home, I was like “damn, I really feel like an actor,” you know what I mean?
Question: To that point though, in what ways has your life has changed since you’ve gotten this role and became a part of this show?
Jabari: How has my life changed?
Question: Yeah, like personally.
Jabari: I mean…I like got shot out of a cannon like, you know what I mean, like at the end of August, at the end of August. So it’s just been a roller coaster, you know what I mean? But I’m so for it, you know? I’ve been on this ride, you know, and it’s been great, it’s been great. It’s really flipped, and I’m just, you know, constantly trying to take care of myself, cause it’s a lot coming from left and right, and pulling me, you know what I mean, so it’s changed in that way because before this I was just, I was chillin, you know what I mean? Sleeping on couches, you know what I mean, just trying to get work. So to be in this position is amazing, you know what I mean?
Question: Is there anything you took from the trailer, the viral trailer, and how you approached your character?
Jabari: You know, not really, but I remember I saw that like two years ago, and I was like, “I would definitely watch that, yeah, I would definitely watch that.” So to be here is like, you know, what I mean, it’s wild. So, yeah, I loved that trailer. I have nothing against it. But I don’t understand the people that are like “why are we touching this,” you know what I mean? Cause this is so secret you know what I mean, but I think they’re going to thoroughly enjoy this. They’ll be moved by it.
Question: Yeah I don’t think it’s the same honestly at all. It’s a completely different show, which is great because I was those people.
Jabari: Good, good!
Question: “I don’t know about this one ya’ll,” but I do enjoy it.
Question: Have you noticed anyone treating you differently since you landed the role? If so, how have you handled that?
Jabari: No, you know what I mean. I just go about my day, you know what I mean. Cause that’s on them. You know what I mean? I just take away what I take away from that and I just try to lead with love, you know what I mean, from me. With light. You know, I can’t control that, you know what I mean? So I don’t pay it too much mind, but it’s definitely happened, it’s definitely happened for sure.
Question: What’s something that you wish you would have known, beforehand, coming into this role that you look back, and like “oh,” like you flag it?
Jabari: Don’t be afraid to have an acting coach. I mean I wasn’t afraid, but l wish like episode one, I would have had one. But I felt like, you know, like, I’m supposed to be on this path for a reason, you know what I mean, so I’m supposed to have one now, and I wasn’t supposed to have one then, and everything that I’m doing is for a reason, you know what I mean, so I don’t really look too deep into that, you know what I mean?
Question: Kind of piggybacking off of that – what would you say is the biggest lesson that you learned about the industry?
Jabari: Dang, that’s a huge question. I mean I’m still trying to figure it out. I still really don’t know, yeah. Cause it’s been like a little bubble, you know, like a little family, so I don’t know too much about the industry actually.
Question: There’s a lot of Philly artists on the soundtrack. Do you get any input in the music?
Jabari: I did, I did. You know, they asked me “this song, or this song,” and I choose which one I liked the best, but you know, there’s a lot of Philly artists in the show too, so that’s been dope to be able work with them, you know what I mean? Cause those are guys that I look up to, I listen to their music, so it’s been dope to be able to work with them, and to throw them in, you know?
Question: You’re an artist yourself?
Jabari: Yes, I am.Yes, I make music myself, yeah.
Question: I was wondering cause when you were asked that question about like how you relate to Will’s like background and everything, it’s like you, like play basketball, you write your own music…
Jabari: Oh you know what, that’s how I should have answered it!
Question: Yeah, so are you like working on music?
Jabari: I haven’t been. I haven’t been. I’ve been solely focused on this. But as soon as we wrap here, I’m getting back to the studio for sure.
Question: So is it like hip hop? What kind of music do you do?
Jabari: Yeah rap, yeah rap music. RnB. I play the keys too. I sing too yeah. Yeah I do. So, but it’s like dope too, because, it’s like the shot that they got is like, you know my hands playing, and then they pan up to me, and so it’s really me, you know what I mean? You’ll see it’s really me, they won’t just cut to my face like, so it’s cool, it’s cool.
Question: So are we gonna get a hip-hop version, like a dark drama hip hop version of the theme song for use?
Jabari: God no. I think if the viewer saw that, they would turn it off, cause that is like too on the nose, you know what I mean? Like “oh this is modern day, let’s trap-up the original theme song.” Like “ugh” that just doesn’t feel right, you know what I mean? And that’s not the direction we’re going.
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